Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Endarkenment - The Dark Goddess in Art and Myth

Getting ready to offer a brief paper and slide show at the Conference on Pagan Studies at Claremont School of Theology, Claremont, California January 24 and 25.  As I suppose previous posts show, I've been researching this subject for a while now, and  I take the liberty of posting here my basic presentation and slide show, entitled:

Endarkenment:  The Dark Goddess in Art and Myth

Because of the limited time for this presentation, I'm going to concentrate on only 2 "Dark Goddesses" that occupy a profound place in the mythos of both the past and the present.  They are Hecate, the underground Greek goddess of the Crossroads, and Lilith, the Biblical first wife of Adam. 

Here is Hecate, the Crone aspect of the Triple Goddess  in her underworld, with the other aspects of the Triple Goddess behind her, holding, perhaps, the book of fate, painted by the English visionary William Blake.  I love this painting because to me it suggests the Paleolithic underworld Goddess of the caves, the Great Mother whose womb the cave was, and the animals Blake includes  could be among those prehistoric creatures artists or ritualists painted,  incubating within the great womb of the cave a new birth in the spring.   In fact the earliest known painting of a human being is the truncated vulva form

Found in the caves at Chauvet-Pont d'Arc in France, the subject of an award winning documentary in 2011 by Werner Herzog, "Cave of Forgotten Dreams".   It has been determined that this is one of the earliest of the paintings in the site,  and the bull form was apparently painted over the original painting at a later date.  Paintings at Chauvet are from 28 to 32 thousand years old. 

Perhaps the first, and last, Dark Goddess is Gaia, Anima Mundi, Mother Earth.  Gloria Orenstein, in speaking of a theology of endarkenment, commented that it is  “bonding with the Earth and the invisible to reestablish our experience of interconnectedness with all things, phenomenal and spiritual, that make up the totality of our life in our cosmos. Ecofeminist arts do not maintain that analytical, rational knowledge is superior to other forms of knowing. They honor Gaia’s Earth intelligence and the stored memories of her plants, rocks, soil, and creatures."
 The dark is the place of creative becoming and unbecoming, the "dark matter" (Dark Mater) from which beginnings form and to which endings go, the circular intelligence of nature.   Could dark matter be symbolized as the cosmic womb of the Dark Mother, incubating and birthing galaxies, particles, stars and planets?

The dark is also the realm of the primordial Dark Goddesses.  Before the advent of patriarchal monotheism there were many of them, often also associated with the Moon, weaving, and oracular powers.  And snakes - everywhere, the sacred, spiraling  serpent.  Among them,  Hella, Nordic underworld Goddess, the Norns or fates, Persephone,  Nyx, Spider Woman when she leads each age through the birth  Kiva,  Dewi Sri, Rangda,  and Sedna, to name a few. 

 In earthly terms, they are the composters of souls.   "Compost" is another, organic word for the "Transmutation" that goes on within the depths of the soil of our planet, wherein  the "gold" of fertile life is distilled from rotting garbage. Composting is the alchemy of life.  

Who is the Dark Goddess as a psychological entity?  In  Fire of the Goddess by Katalin Koda, she writes that:

"The feminine qualities of darkness, moistness, birth, and blood symbolize the dark mother and our inner Initiate……When we face our shadow, we are initiated into our deepest powers. We may be afraid of these parts; these howling, undernourished, repressed, and rage-filled aspects of ourselves that demand to be heard, but which we cannot bear to face."

 Working with the shadow  means we are mining that darkness for the evolutionary jewels that reside in the caves.  Among the shadow Goddesses, the Dark Twin of Sumerian Inanna is one of the most ancient recorded myths about the eternal  transmutation of life.      Inanna must descend into the underworld realm of Ereshkigal, to encounter, understand, and heal the rift with the sorrowing and angry Queen.  In order to do so she must give up at each of 7 gates one of her powers, arriving at last naked and powerless.   Like the story of Persephone, the Descent of Inanna may also be seen as about the integration of dark and light aspects of self that are necessary to achieve mature wholeness and empowerment.  As playwright Elizabeth Fuller commented in a 2002 interview, 
"Persephone's myth is about moving into a new state of being.  All the soul riches, the knowledge, the art, everything was running down the drain into Hades and it stayed there.  It stopped circulating.  This was the myth of Inanna as well; everything went down to Ereshkigal, the keeper of the Underworld, and got stuck there in the universal unconscious.  Ereshkigal, the mind of the underworld, was on strike - she refused to process, which could be said of our collective predicament today.  We can look at the stories of Persephone and Inanna and see that they are pathfinders.  Pathfinders to the unconscious.  That's a very important myth for our time."

Hecate is often shown with two torches that guide the maiden Kore out of Hades, to become the creative force of spring, the mature Persephone.  One torch is the past, the other the future.  In that liminal place at the crossroads of time stands Hecate, the Goddess of the Crossroads, guide through the underworld.   She is often identified with the moon as well, particularly the dark moon.

One of my favorite contemporary images of Hecate is by Lydia Ruhle, whose Goddess Banners travel to conferences throughout the world.   Notice the ever ubiquitous snake, found throughout the artwork in this presentation.   While the snake is usually shown in the hand of Demeter, here Lydia has placed the snakes at the foot of Hecate, which to me represent the serpentine energies of nature, the Earth, the cycles of life/death/life.  Hecate's Wheel also represents this continual cycling and reforming of life, the three aspects of the Goddess represented by the spokes of the wheel.   
Contemporary artist Hrona Janto's Hecate stands at the crossroads with Cerebus, the three headed dog, holding the snake entwined staff and with a halo that represents the dark of the moon.

In 2002 Damira Norris chose to perform and invoke Hecate in a play created by Diane Darling.  For her the Goddess served as well as a guide through a very difficult time in her life.  As she described it, 


"I remember lighting a candle each day to symbolize my commitment to my journey through the despair I felt at menopause.  That's Hecate to me.  She will not help you to avoid a thing, but She will bear a light for you on the path, which is really the path to mature empowerment and integration.  I believe at certain passages in our lives our souls cry out "I want to get rid of this, I want to move on".  And it's not easy."

Lilith is a Dark Goddess who has fascinated artists for a long time, and her journey from the night time aspect of Sumerian Inanna, from the owl footed midwife to the feared succubus and demon of Jewish and Christian lore is a mythological journey that reflects the degradation of the sacred feminine, as well as the de-sacralization and denial of sexuality  in patriarchal monotheism.  In medieval art she is often shown as a woman with the body of a snake, as Michelangelo also interpreted her.  

According to various Biblical texts, Lilith was the first wife of Adam, made from the same clay.  Because she would not submit to Adam she was banished from Eden, and God created another, presumably more compliant wife for him.   But apparently Lilith occasionally managed to sneak back, and is often shown as the snake that offers the fatal fruit to naïve Eve.  But if so, what did Lilith really offer?  Wisdom, knowledge, the means to achieve selfhood within an understanding of the eternal, serpentine, cycles of life - the serpent of the ancient Great Mother.  Alas for both Lilith and Eve, who in attempting selfhood  became the penultimate Biblical scapegoats.
"Patriarchy is a system of male dominance, rooted in the ethos of war which legitimates violence, sanctified by religious symbols, in which men dominate women through the control of female sexuality, with the intent of passing property to male heirs, and in which men who are heroes of war are told to kill men, and are permitted to rape women, to seize land and treasures, to exploit resources, and to own or otherwise dominate conquered people."
........ Carol P. Christ

Of her similar derived painting "Lilith and Eve",  artist Linda Garland said: 
 "In the desert Lilith became the consort of Samael and other fallen angels. Fury with Adam and grief for her slaughtered children led Lilith to plot revenge."   

Well duh.  Banished to the wilderness of the seething unconscious, children destroyed, scapegoated for the downfall of man, the very symbol of  violent  sexual repression epitomized by such collective hysteria as the Inquisition…….no wonder  Lilith is also portrayed as  a screech owl.  She is mighty pissed off.  

Lilith is often portrayed as a succubus who comes in the night as a "wet dream", and her offspring also continued to plague Adam's descendants as succubae or vampires.   Some speculate that Lilith is the origin of the Vampire myth.  In symbolic terms, Lilith may represent the sexual, Kundalini energy that is subverted and diabolized in "sky god" monotheism, to become perverse instead of sustaining or generative.  And Lilith is also the collective shadow rage of women and the feminine  aspects of men as well.

 In 2002 it was my privilege to interview a Bay Area artist and musician, David Jeffers, who worked with the archetype of Lilith, and I was very moved by his observations. 

"The pain of Lilith" he said,  "is so much  about the divinity of human pain.  People often only identify with Lilith's rage, the woman who was cast out because She would not accept inequality. For me She is not that simple. If you can't go beyond Lilith's first door, which is rage, you're going to be stuck; you aren't going to penetrate the emotional mysteries beyond. Lilith is the most intelligent archetypal power to aid in understanding the mechanism that underlies our unconscious motivations, she is about the ability to connect the subconscious to the conscious mind, so that information can become usable in your life and on your path. Lilith is the bridge.  
People who are linear in their thinking suddenly find their world shattered when Eros shoots arrows at them. Or when they have an experience that is inexplicable or traumatic, something that cannot fit into the model they've organized their lives around. There are references in the Kabala to what is called "breaking the shell". The mind set of "what you believe" is the shell, and Lilith is about breaking the shell. You have to fall apart sometimes to be put back together; because that's the only way you can be reconstructed. You cannot veneer the teachings of Lilith on top of "who you think you are".

In Lilith imagery we see the snake again, and again, and again.  Here is a famous painting by the English artist John Collier.  And here another by Franz Von Stuck, which he titled "Evil" that clearly derives from Lilith mythos.

In the old kingdom of Egypt the word for snake or cobra was the same symbol as that for Goddess - the snake that represents the endless natural and psychic cycle of life/death/rebirth, just as the snake sheds its skin and moves, like the sinuous energies of nature, in a spiral.  The snake may also be seen as the generative force of the Kundalini.   But the enlightenment  of Apollonian logic is not serpentine.  It is vertical, illuminated, bright,  and orderly, and the only way of the Sky god is up.

Here we have Faust and Lilith by the 17th century artist Richard Westall.  The ubiquitous snake is barely visible in the foreground, and Faust cavorts with an innocent enough looking Lilith while  a riotous party is seen  going on in the background, one that could surely bring nothing but sheer damnation.  

Here we have several contemporary Liliths with a whole lot of snakes, which could also be viewed as a whole lot of Kundalini rising.  

Contemporary British artist Paul Fryer has created a winged wax Lilith, bound like Gulliver to the ground by 24 carat gold wires, bound but perhaps not entirely broken if one looks carefully at her eyes, which seem to hold a deep life force. 
Lilith is bound, bound by golden threads that perhaps demonstrate her great value to the forces that have bound her wings.  But she waits to rise again.

  In Opie Snow's Lilith series, Lilith is a primal, almost purely elemental force, which perhaps, viewed from the perspective of a woman artist, is neither desirable or wicked, but hurt, or possessed of enormous vitality,  or both.

Here is Kiki Smith's Lilith - almost spider like, she observes from the wall, her eyes regarding the viewer with the clarity of a creature banished to the shadows, the hidden places, a creature of pain, pathos, fear and loneliness.

In Mark Rothko's "Rites of Lilith", I have always felt he spoke of the the desolation of that harsh and hidden landscape within the collective unconscious Lilith has been banned to.

But there is hope today for Lilith, who is increasingly refusing to be hidden, punished, and scapegoated in many sectors of society.  

Here, for example, is a painting by Mariam Zakarian called "The Lilith Effect".  The artist has an entirely positive view of Lilith…..the rising Earth Serpent and the Goddess seem to be generative indeed, a virtual cornucopia.

And of course, the Lilith Faire.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Cave Artist - Ra Paulette

The world within the Earth and Ourselves

Here's an amazing artist.................Ra Paulette is a true New Mexico visionary.

 "My final and most ambitious project is both an environmental and social art project that uses solitude and the beauty of the natural world to create an experience that fosters spiritual renewal and personal well being.  It is a culmination of everything I have learned and dreamed of in creating caves.     A mile walk in the wilderness becomes a pilgrimage journey to a hand dug, elaborately sculpted cave complex illuminated by the sun through multiple tunneled windows.
 The cave is both a shared ecumenical shrine and an otherworldly venue for presentations and performances designed to address issues of social welfare and the art of well being...............In social art, creating the work of art is not the objective in itself, as in an exhibit, but is a means to bring about social change. The response to the artwork is not merely left to its audience as an endpoint in the process but is an element in a larger encompassing creative process."    
   Ra Paulette 


To view the Slide Show:  http://www.racavedigger.com/racavedigger.com/Cave_Photos.html#4


Saturday, January 3, 2015

Ladybug Synchronicity

 I had a very encouraging synchronicity the other day, and I've been pondering it ever since.

It's been an enormously stressful "holiday", one I won't forget soon.  It began with going all the way to Phoenix for an exhausting outdoor arts festival, and for the first time in 40 years, not even making my show fee in sales.   I remember thinking that the show was a painful reminder that that part of my career, and perhaps that prosperous time for so many of us........was truly over.

Then on the closing day of the show I received a call from my friend, who was house sitting and visiting Tucson for the winter, that her beautiful daughter, Amaranta, had been killed in an accident in San Diego.  I rushed back to take her to the airport and console as I could. 

A few days later I received a call that my mother, who was in a memory care assisted living facility that has been home to her for years  had been moved to the hospital and could not return because she had CDF, an infectious intestinal disease the elderly get.  Then began two weeks of sitting by her bed expecting her to die, her being moved to a temporary rehab facility, being informed that she could not stay more than a week because she was dying and hence not "rehab", also being told that she couldn't go back to where she was living because she had CDF, and being also told that she couldn't have hospice because she was in a "rehab" facility.  In other words, I had 5 days to find a place to live for a dying woman, and on top of it all, most places wouldn't take her because she had CDF.  And because she needed skilled nursing and  I have turned my house into a B&B, and have renters, I couldn't bring her  to my house either, plus she needs skilled caretakers.  Hows that for dealing with the "Insurance Machine"?  I now fully understand that insurance corporations really do rule the world.

I confess I am proud of myself that I did find a care home on short notice that I could afford, one that would take my mother, did move her there, did engage hospice (once she was removed from the rehab and could become medicare eligible), and she is now comfortable and actually getting better.  Jeanne, Amaranta's mother, is back at my house dealing with her grief as best she can.

In the midst of all this we've also had a very rare winter storm that  has killed off much of the citrus crop.  It's still here, and I look out the window at my  lettuce and chard, flattened and covered with frost.  In southern Arizona.............

A lot of death, at the Solstice. 

Needless to say, I've been emotionally exhausted as well as physically.  And in all honesty, anyone who has been a caretaker for the elderly, or people with dementia for  a long time  knows the ambiguity of  loving the person, and also wishing they would pass so their own life could go forward.  You feel grief, shame, and anger, all at once.

Yesterday, things calming down a bit, I picked up "Journey of Souls" by Michael Newton, and had it on the bedside table.  I was feeling sorry for myself, and thinking my dark thoughts that it was too late for me to do so many of the things I used to think I wanted to do.   I was quite amazed to see a ladybug on the cover of the book, and as I watched it walked around and around the edges of the book.  Ladybugs are rare here, and I've never seen one in the dead of winter.  And walking across "Journey of Souls" like a little poem made visible...............

The  Ladybug raised my spirits, and I carefully placed it on a houseplant, and I haven't seen it since.  I looked up "meaning of ladybug" on Google, and was surprised to learn that this little bug has a lot of symbolism associated with it, beginning with its name.  Oh, and I might add that in the midst of all this the mask I've been working on currently is a new  "The Virgin of Guadaloupe" for the performance my friends and I hope to create at the World Parliment of Religion in 2015.  The "Lady's Beetle" seems to me like an encouraging visitation indeed!

Here's some of what I found in my research:


Legends vary about how the Ladybug came to be named, but the most common (and enduring) is this:   In Europe, during the Middle Ages, swarms of insects were destroying the crops.  The farmers prayed to the Virgin Mary for help.  Soon thereafter the Ladybugs came, devouring the plant-destroying pests and saving the crops!  The farmers called these beautiful insects "The Beetles of Our Lady", and - over time - they eventually became popularly known as "Lady Beetles".  The red wings were said to represent the Virgin's cloak and the black spots were symbolic of both her joys and her sorrows.

From Wise Geek:

Many cultures view ladybugs as lucky, and a great deal of superstition surrounds these small and stylishly outfitted insects. As often happens with superstition, it is actually a bit difficult to determine why ladybugs came to be viewed as lucky. One interesting thing about ladybug superstitions is that these superstitions are so universal: usually, superstitions about living things are quite varied, with different cultures attaching different meanings to everything ranging from black cats to mirrors.

The most likely explanation for the general view that ladybugs are lucky is their dietary habits. Ladybugs eat harmful crop pests, so the appearance of ladybugs would have been welcomed by farmers and gardeners. The appearance of a ladybug would also have been viewed as a blessing.

One of the most common superstitions about ladybugs is the idea that killing a ladybug will bring down bad luck. This would support the idea that ladybug superstitions evolved as a form of protection for the ladybug population, ensuring that the insects could travel unmolested. Many cultures also link the sight of a ladybug with future luck in love, good weather, a financial windfall, or the granting of wishes. Having a ladybug land on you is supposedly to be particularly lucky in some cultures, and some people believe that when a ladybug lands on an object, that object will be replaced by a new and improved version.

In some Christian societies, especially in Europe, the ladybug is linked with the Virgin Mary, also known as Our Lady to devout Catholics. According to legend, the spots on the ladybug's back symbolize the Seven Sorrows of Mary, and ladybugs were sent by the Virgin to protect crops. The color of the beetle is the same as the red cloak of Mary, often portrayed in art.  This explains the origins of the name “ladybug.” Ladybugs are also known as “lady beetles,” or “ladybirds,” other references to the Virgin. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Ursula Leguin and "the realists of a larger reality"

 "I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries — the realists of a larger reality. "

  As she has been for so many years, Ursula Leguin speaks once more to the core for me.   I've visited numerous times every world she has shown us, and one thing she has always shown are  the infinite possibilities of the imagination and culture, brilliantly reasoned out through the eyes of the anthropologist's daughter that she also is.   I have travelled with her through worlds of solitude, where a young girl must be alone  to "make her soul" in "The Birthday of the World" collection.  I've visited a world in the midst of an Ice Age, and come to love a pragmatic  hero who is also a hermaphrodite, neither male nor female on a world without gender, in "The Left Hand of Darkness".  I've visited Earthsea many times, and watched the coming of age of the mage Ged, who can talk with dragons, and  must learn not only about power, but more importantly, the Equilibrium, keeping the balance.  And in "Four Ways to Forgiveness" I've seen two worlds come apart and re-form as slavery is ended, and former slaves and owners must find their personal salvation as well in the midst of a vast revolution................thank you, Ursula, thank you for making it possible for me to visit those worlds, to escape my own when I needed to, to see with your words the infinate possibilities of  human experience...............

Her speech is a call to artists as well as writers, she says what I have so many times thought recently - how "money sick" everything has become, and how we are losing our freedom in so many  ways. 
"But the name of the beautiful reward", she says, "is not profit.  Its name is freedom."   The freedom to create uncensored, internally or externally,  by the endless demand that what is created somehow be justified, it's "real value" be determined, somehow, by how much money "it" can make.  Which is no "real" evaluation of success at all, any more than the "success" of corporations has anything to do with preserving our planet's future.   We need to put money consciousness outside the door when we enter the house of  creative integrity - otherwise it's like a loud cacophony of endless commercials, nattering away, obstructing any capacity to hear, see, know, be "en-souled".  If the work makes money, or doesn't, has to be irrelevant - a difficult thing in a capitalist/corporate world that can increasingly determine no other means of value anywhere.

When young artists come to my home, I'm always dismayed at how rarely any of them ask about the work displayed there, what it means, why I did it, even what it's made out of.  No, most of them ask about shows, ways to promote work, how, in other words, did I make money from my work and can I help them do so.  And I've never said this out loud, but the work displayed is a Conversation I secretly long for others to engage with in with me.  And in the babble and preoccupation with money, my voice, the voice of the work,  is never heard.   What wealth, if money was left outside the door like our shoes, what real wealth might be found in the creative conversation hanging on the walls, the sharing of the deep impulses from which their, and my, work sprang?

In accepting the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at this year’s National Book Awards, eminent sci-fi writer Ursula Le Guin made a knock-out speech about the power of capitalism, literature and imagination that, as she put it afterwards, “went sort-of viral on YouTube.”



I rejoice at accepting it for, and sharing it with, all the writers who were excluded from literature for so long, my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction—writers of the imagination, who for the last 50 years watched the beautiful rewards go to the so-called realists.

I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality.

Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship. (Thank you, brave applauders.)

Yet I see sales departments given control over editorial; I see my own publishers in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an ebook six or seven times more than they charge customers. We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience and writers threatened by corporate fatwa, and I see a lot of us, the producers who write the books, and make the books, accepting this. Letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant, and tell us what to publish and what to write. (Well, I love you too, darling.)

Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words.

I have had a long career and a good one. In good company. Now here, at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want—and should demand—our fair share of the proceeds. But the name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The End of the Known World - Poem by David Whyte

This summer I made a blog for my friend Zoe, who walked the Camino de Santiago at the age of 68. The scallop shell is the symbol of the Camino, pointing the way all along the long pilgrimage route.   After Compostella, many pilgrims continue on to Finisterre, "Lands End", where they truly finish their pilgrimage before the vastness of the Atlantic ocean.   Recently I remembered this beloved poem by David Whyte, and somehow it reminded me of the New Year as well.........."Because now, you would find a different way to tread, and because, through it all, part of you could still walk on,  no matter how........."


The road in the end taking the path the sun had taken,
into the western sea, and the moon rising behind you
as you stood where ground turned to ocean: no way
to your future now
but the way your shadow could take,
walking before you across water,
going where shadows go,

no way to make sense of a world that wouldn't let you pass
except to call an end to the way you had come,
to take out each frayed letter you brought
and light their illumined corners, and to read
them as they drifted through the western light;
to empty your bags;
to sort this and to leave that;

to promise what you needed to promise all along
and to abandon the shoes that had brought you here
right at the water's edge,

not because you had given up

but because now, you would find a different way to tread,
and because, through it all,
part of you could still walk on,

no matter how, over the waves.”

― David Whyte


**Photos by Zoe D'Ay

Friday, December 26, 2014

Bring On the Dark: Why We Need the Winter Solstice

"Endarkenment" (1993)

"We’ve rolled back the night so far that soon we will come full circle and reach the dawn of the following day. And where will that leave us? In a world with no God and no wolf either — only unrelenting commerce and consumption, information and media ... and light. We need a rest from ourselves that only a night like the winter solstice can give us."

I love the painting above, because it reminds me of the time I made it - living in the country in upstate N.Y., during a mid-winter snowstorm that happened all around the house, and left my then husband and I, both self-employed artists,  alone in a vast, silent, gorgeous blanket of snow for days.   For a while the lights went out, but we had no shortage of candles, and somehow that makes the memory even sweeter.  The dark and the silence of  that long ago January was not frightening, but intimate, like the dreamer in the the painting, a place for sleep, for the incubation of dreams, a place to heal from the frenzy of achievement and obligation.  A place where we could lie together in the warmth of our bed, becoming aware of each others breathing, the occasional sound of snowfall, or an animal moving outside. 

I remember recently seeing a time lapse film of cities - vast networks of light, sky scrapers and traffic rushing along freeways like blood coursing along arteries, and I was struck by how much it looked like some kind of organism frenetically pulsing and extruding itself and consuming everything around it.  The truth is, it had a terrible beauty - the shimmering, glittering urban  triumph of humanity over nature, over the darkness.  Or is it? 

I  take the liberty of reprinting here a wonderful article by Clark Strand, whose forthcoming  book I want to read soon, very soon.  He gets it, he really does.


December 19, 2014

WOODSTOCK, N.Y. — WHEN the people of this small mountain town got their first dose of electrical lighting in late 1924, they were appalled. “Old people swore that reading or living by so fierce a light was impossible,” wrote the local historian Alf Evers. That much light invited comparisons. It was an advertisement for the new, the rich and the beautiful — a verdict against the old, the ordinary and the poor. As Christmas approached, a protest was staged on the village green to decry the evils of modern light.

Woodstock has always been a small place with a big mouth where cultural issues are concerned. But in this case the protest didn’t amount to much. Here as elsewhere in early 20th-century America, the reluctance to embrace brighter nights was a brief and halfhearted affair.

Tomorrow is the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. But few of us will turn off the lights long enough to notice. There’s no getting away from the light. There are fluorescent lights and halogen lights, stadium lights, streetlights, stoplights, headlights and billboard lights. There are night lights to stand sentinel in hallways, and the lit screens of cellphones to feed our addiction to information, even in the middle of the night. No wonder we have trouble sleeping. The lights are always on.

In the modern world, petroleum may drive our engines but our consciousness is driven by light. And what it drives us to is excess, in every imaginable form.

Beginning in the late 19th century, the availability of cheap, effective lighting extended the range of waking human consciousness, effectively adding more hours onto the day — for work, for entertainment, for discovery, for consumption; for every activity except sleep, that nightly act of renunciation. Darkness was the only power that has ever put the human agenda on hold.

In centuries past, the hours of darkness were a time when no productive work could be done. Which is to say, at night the human impulse to remake the world in our own image — so that it served us, so that we could almost believe the world and its resources existed for us alone — was suspended. The night was the natural corrective to that most persistent of all illusions: that human progress is the reason for the world.

Advances in science, industry, medicine and nearly every other area of human enterprise resulted from the influx of light. The only casualty was darkness, a thing of seemingly little value. But that was only because we had forgotten what darkness was for. In times past people took to their beds at nightfall, but not merely to sleep. They touched one another, told stories and, with so much night to work with, woke in the middle of it to a darkness so luxurious it teased visions from the mind and divine visitations that helped to guide their course through life. Now that deeper darkness has turned against us. The hour of the wolf we call it — that predatory insomnia that makes billions for big pharma. It was once the hour of God.

There is, of course, no need to fear the dark, much less prevail over it. Not that we could. Look up in the sky on a starry night, if you can still find one, and you will see that there is a lot of darkness in the universe. There is so much of it, in fact, that it simply has to be the foundation of all that is. The stars are an anomaly in the face of it, the planets an accident. Is it evil or indifferent? I don’t think so. Our lives begin in the womb and end in the tomb. It’s dark on either side.

We’ve rolled back the night so far that soon we will come full circle and reach the dawn of the following day. And where will that leave us? In a world with no God and no wolf either — only unrelenting commerce and consumption, information and media ... and light. We need a rest from ourselves that only a night like the winter solstice can give us. And the earth, too, needs that rest. The only thing I can hope for is that, if we won’t come to our senses and search for the darkness, on nights like these, the darkness will come looking for us.

Clark Strand is the author of the forthcoming book “Waking Up to the Dark: Ancient Wisdom for a Sleepless Age.”


"When your eyes are tired the world is tired also. When your vision has gone no part of the world can find you. Time to go into the dark where the night has eyes to recognize its own. There you can be sure you are not beyond love. The dark will be your womb tonight. The night will give you a horizon further than you can see.

You must learn one thing. The world was made to be free in. Give up all other worlds except the one to which you belong. Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness to learn that anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you. ” 

― David Whyte

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Winter Solstice

When language was young, when even the gods and goddesses had not yet entirely taken human form but still ran with the deer in the forest, or flew with the wings of crows, or were glimpsed in the depths of a numinous pool........even then,  I think this was a holy day.  The Sun was returning to the sleeping world.

Fires were lit to welcome the Shining One returning from the underworld.  Stones aligned with the  Sun's journey made a pathway, and food and drink were left to give the Young God the strength he would need. 

Perhaps  they  danced through the long cold night, lighting   fires for him,  helping him on his way, keeping vigil.

These ancient roots are still found in many traditions, from the Lumaria of the Festival of Lights, to the lighting of the Menorah Candles at Hanukkah.   Planet Earth turns her face toward her star again,  she circles round,  and we turn with her, every  creat(e)ure  within her fragile, azure skin.   The light is returning!   Happy Solstice!

I pledge allegiance
to the soil of Turtle Island,
and to the beings
who thereon dwell
one ecosystem in diversity
under the sun
With joyful
interpenetration for all.

Gary Snyder